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Diversity is about respecting the differences between people of various backgrounds (Berry, 2011). In the United States, we are a nation of immigrants with possible exception of the Native Americans depending on your perspective. Each group brings a diverse set of ideas, customs, beliefs, values, prejudices, biases, and cultural influences to the table, so diversity is about respecting these differences. To respect another's perspective, it requires one to withhold judgment. Withholding judgment requires that we come to the table with the beginners mind. The beginners mind is one void of prejudice. While no one can be completely devoid of prejudice, this concept helps push aside one's own influencing belief system in order to be open to the person on the other side of table (Suzuki, 2011).
As part of our survival mechanism, we hold on to these influences, since it in part defines who and what we are as individuals; however, sometimes these issue adversely affect the way we engage others. In some cases, cultural misunderstandings have resulted in wars that still rage today after hundreds of years. For example, in the Middle East today, this part of the world is rife with religious and cultural warfare resulting in thousands of people losing their lives. In the US, we shake our heads in disbelief and we reject their religious zealousness. It could be our own arrogance that we simply dismiss their beliefs as being wrong (Bien, 2006).
It could also be out of culturally acceptable idea of our forefathers (and mothers) that we built a country where all men and women are created equal. While this utopian idea is honorable, many countries in the Middle East have been reluctant to accept this idea even though it is probably the most spiritually correct of ideas. Since it shakes the very foundation of their beliefs, they engage in warfare to stand up for their ideas in the hopes that their culture will survive (Bien, 2006).
This is not unlike our forefathers, who believed they were correct to reject the British Empire rule and the monarchial system of government. Seeking freedom from tyranny and oppression, our ancestors made their way to the New World to live free; however, they engaged in the same activity they fled. Based on our past as well as our current world view, we could surmise that lacking diversity leads to adversity and strife. Being diverse is much more than adhering to a set of laws guaranteeing freedom of expression. It is about embracing the differences that make us unique (Berry, 2011) while withholding judgment of others (Bien, 2006).
Determining a list of characteristics is difficult without reflecting on my journey that has contributed to my diverse nature. Every person has a story that is important to tell. It is through the personal stories that people express who they truly are. Empathetic listening is an important criterion in becoming more aware of the other person's perspective. In fact, it is about respect and trust (Bien, 2006).
My emphasis during the last few years has been to become more mindful or aware of myself and everyone around me. This requires a non-judgmental mind, which can be difficult to overcome. Both characteristics are necessary to be diverse in body, mind, and spirit. Religious beliefs were once a major issue with me until I discovered the similarities between all world religions. This major "revelation" was discovered as I searched for own self-meaning. While having been an expert in my subject matter for 20 years, this self-discovery experience has led me to assess my own nature as non-judgmental, professional, open minded, intensely curious, and passionate, who is grounded in spiritual, non-religious and religious experiences, striving to become a mindful, compassionate, and empathetic communicator.
Understanding these personal struggles within my own soul helps me to understand the other persons struggle. While I still have difficulty in fully understanding certain belief systems, my mind is no longer hampered by ignorance. Instead, it has liberated my mind as I am more willing to accept what is on face value without interpretation. In this manner, I am able to demonstrate a level of respect for individuals regardless of background.
I believe my talent for management comes from this respectful and open minded perspective. It also makes it easier to learn new ideas in order to improve upon my own abilities as well as share them with my students. In the classroom, it has liberated my teaching ability as I have become more self-aware, thus more self-confident. Conveying confidence without an arrogant attitude is important for students to gain trust in your ability and knowledge.
Personal SWOT Analysis
Desire to learn about cultures.
Curious nature towards learning
Respectful of others beliefs.
Teach diversity in the workplace.
Professional example for students.
Empathetic advisor and counselor.
Compassionate regarding the human condition.
Passionate learner and teacher.
Expert in subject matter.
Open minded when exploring ideas.
Spiritual non-religious nature
Program diversity reflective of campus.
Impatient with speed of student work.
Compulsion to maintain strict deadlines and schedules.
Inability to fully express my feelings.
Professional behavior restricts my willingness to delve into student personal issues.
Overly committed and easily distracted with outside projects.
Overly consumed with rules and regulations.
Expectation of perfection in student performance.
Disconnected from campus services for those in need.
Annoyed by victim mentality.
Cultural diversity training not always successful with each class.
Do not see need to tailor program recruitment towards minority groups.
Refuse to participate in the cultural activities on campus.
Develop class activities to explore of cultural norms of their colleagues.
Offer student cultural training as part of their graduation requirements.
Include as part of the orientation my life's philosophy to become more human.
Redesign program requirements that offer more opportunities.
Develop more inclusive cultural activities to celebrate all cultures.
Attend training for developing a "mindful" approach to learning, advising, and counseling.
Volunteer as a diversity committee member.
Participate in the student success committee meeting.
Explore foundation funding for developing cultural exploration activities as well as degree funding.
Expectations may not fit cultural norms of the student.
Curiosity may hamper class projects if distracted.
Inability of students to grasp complex subject concepts.
Students not adhering to professional standards.
Students fear my rigid authority stemming from my over-professionalized attitude.
Students feel unable to live-up to my standards.
State and federal funding for educational opportunities.
Part 2: Addressing Diversity
Total Student Population: 5985
African American: 25%
American Indian : 5%
Low Income: 29.0%
Middle Income: 69.5%
Upper Income: 1.5 %
Free/Reduced Lunch: Not applicable
Regular Education: 100%
Special Education: 0%
Gifted/Talented Education: 0%
Impact of Diversity
With our growing student diversity, teaching and learning has been impacted in various ways. The administration and Board of Trustees have developed as part of our strategic plan to fully embrace the needs of minority groups. This plan included developing programs targeting the underserved population. Most of these programs involve extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs ("The College Strategic Plan of Operations," 2009) .
The intent was to encourage more minority athletes to attend our college. While many disagreed in the beginning, it has increased the number of male minorities on campus. They serve as wonderful role models that encourage the minority participation in college activities, thus nurturing a positive atmosphere among the student body. This type of nurturing moves beyond the classroom teaching and learning, but it can be beneficial as it helps focus on the strength or "perceived strength" of the student. It is the impetus for enrollment, but once we get them in the door, they will have the opportunity to excel and reach their potential academically (Richards, Brown, & Forde, Jan).
While sports promotion seems counterintuitive to learning, participation in college activities is an important part of retaining students as it gives them a sense of belonging to the college community. In fact, the male minority population has improved, but it remains uncertain the impact it will have on overall academic performance (Sullivan, 2009), since there are many non-cognitive impacting performance (Ting, 2009).In many cases, the male minority may see this as a façade to reduce the racial disparity despite the right intention by the college administration (Anonymous, 2005).
In addition to sports, the college embarked on developing a male minority mentorship club to increase minority male participation in campus life. As part of the inaugural faculty members, I have participated in several activities. The group is primarily African-American, so it does not reflect all minorities on campus, but it has been a positive influence on many students. In addition, it is gender specific, so it does not support the female minorities; however, the impetus for the program was based on the high attrition rate among minority males. Like the sports program, it has contributed to greater success among the participants which is supported by current research (King & Gurian, 2006), but it is uncertain how it will impact the larger community of minority students.
Last year, the administration made two major decisions to enhance minority representation on campus. The first decision involved rewriting the hiring practices to ensure a faculty that would be reflective of the student population. Having participated on ten of the hiring committees, I was able to see first-hand how difficult it would be; however, it did result in a greater number of minority faculty members, but we fell short of achieving the percentages desired (Sullivan, 2009)(Sullivan, 2011). The idea was to create "cross-cutting groups in order to improve intergroup relations (Banks, Cookson, Gay, Hawley, & al, 2001, pp. 196-203)". The hope is that students will feel less intimated if they have professors reflecting their own culture and race; however, these are very superficial views of what diversity is truly about in our culture. Achieving diversity is about understanding and respecting our differences (Berry, 2011), but not creating a façade for appearance sake (Anonymous, 2005).
To help the campus culture evolve towards a more inclusiveness, the second decision by the administration was to establish a diversity committee. The purpose of this committee was to provide guiding principles for campus diversity moving forward. In addition to providing these principles, the committee charge is to develop faculty, staff, and student activities to enhance a more open and diverse mindset across campus. The committee will also help existing activities become more inclusive when planning campus activities ("The College Strategic Plan of Operations," 2009).
Teaching and learning happens inside the classroom as well outside the classroom (Wolff, Cummins, & Fiscus, 2006). All of the public service and health curriculums include classroom, clinical, and practicum experiences as part of their program criteria. These activities are part of the effort to achieve our diversity goal, but it is also required by the professional program accreditation. Beyond the "required" efforts, the campus has many activities infused with a rich cultural focus.
As a college with the largest per capita foundation funding, the foundation office funds many speakers of very diverse backgrounds. The purpose of these lectures is to "deepen understanding of key issues and encourage public participation in their resolution (Sandhills Community College, 2011)". These lectures focus on the human condition and the world we live in today. Expressing these diverse views have been such speakers as Sandra Day O'Connor, Stephen Ambrose, George McGovern, Ossie Davis, and Colin Powell (Sandhills Community College, 2011). These lectures are offered free to the public, so the diversity goal extends to the community as well. In many cases, these speakers will offer their time to also speak with our students in a more focused setting prior to their evening speeches.
In addition to the foundation activities, the male minority mentoring group (3MP) has sponsored many speakers of diverse backgrounds such as well-known author, journalist and activist, Jeff Johnson. This group is also responsible for the Martin Luther King celebration events. Many of the 3MP speakers have been NC natives, which provide students with a personal connection, but it also provides a historical context to the journey of their ancestors. As they hear their stories, they see the possibilities of what could be, if they believe in their abilities. These stories in context are necessary as part of the principles for teaching and learning in a multicultural society (Banks et al., 2001). These are stimulating an inviting activities open to all, who will come. Often, the 3MP group and the other campus clubs participate in campus events to increase participation of the minority students; however, these activities need to be part of curricula in order to reach a greater audience (Wolff et al., 2006). Nevertheless, the college finds many ways to promote diversity beyond the classroom.
Art shows, musical performance, culinary and health fairs, and sporting events are used to also reach the community regardless of background. Many events are free as they add to the fabric of our campus and community culture. Efforts are made to ensure representation from all groups. The committee members providing such events are charged with investigating inclusiveness in activities (Wolff et al., 2006). For example, our latest health fair included the African Drummers from our local drumming club. This was an effort to incorporate a very positive physical activity while introducing culture into the lives of students. While not always achieved, the goal is to always be inclusive.
In the final analysis, our college culture is shifting to a greater degree towards inclusiveness. From board room to the classroom, there are more activities each year that celebrate our cultural differences. Many more possibilities exist for future improvements inside the classroom for teaching and learning; however, we must always be conscious of the learning taking place outside the classroom as being equally valuable. In fact, it may be more valuable in the grand scheme of the campus efforts, since it is more inclusive of the entire campus and community, but it must be planned with intention (Wolff et al., 2006).